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Hermeneutics 5 – A “More Spiritual” Meaning?

November 1, 2012

Admittedly, this topic is a bit difficult to discuss in a one page post due to the nuances and caveats involved.  I will do my best however.

In the last post I mentioned that a passion to determine what the original author meant must drive us in our Bible reading.  We remember that the end result of the Holy Spirit “carrying along” (2 Pet. 1:21, NIV) the authors of Scripture is that their writings are “God-breathed” (2 Tim 3:16, NIV).  What this means is that their words are God’s words.  This means that the message Paul had for the Galatians is the message God had for the Galatians and is ultimately God’s Word to us today.  So, as we concluded in the last post, as we determine what Paul or any other author meant in his writings, we are actually determining what God meant and therefore what God means for us to know today.

The question I am addressing today is, “Should we look for a more spiritual meaning than that which any Biblical author intended?”  I do not believe there can be a more spiritual meaning to Scripture than that which was initially inspired by the Holy Spirit.  If God “went through the trouble” to not only inspire Scripture, but make sure that we knew that He inspired it, should we now expect that He overrides His initial intention and “tells” us that Scripture means something different from what it initially meant?  If the Holy Spirit inspired Scripture isn’t the most spiritual meaning that which He intended through the authors He “carried along”?  As we pray that God would “open our eyes” and “guide us into His truth” should we expect that His Spirit will guide us or tell us that a passage of Paul means something different from what Paul intended?  I believe the answer is no.  I believe that the most spiritual experience we can have with Scripture is to pray and seek out the authors’ intended meaning, because that meaning is the Spirit’s meaning and therefore the most spiritual.  Now for the caveats and nuances.

That there is no “more spiritual” meaning to Scripture than that which the Holy Spirit inspired as intended by the original authors does not mean we can not make further deductions or applications of Scripture.  We can determine, “by good and necessary consequence” (Westminster Confession of Faith, 1:6) what a passage may imply although it may not say so explicitly.  The Trinity is an example of this.  Although the word “Trinity” does not appear in Scripture, the teaching that God is three persons yet one Being is a logical deduction from Scripture.  Since Scripture is abundantly clear that the Father, Son, and Spirit are three distinct persons and yet refers to each as God and Yahweh, “good and necessary consequence” demands that we believe that God is a Trinity.  But notice that the belief in this doctrine is demanded by realizing that when the apostle John referred to Jesus as Yahweh (Jn. 12:41 compared with Is. 6), he meant (and therefore God still means) that Jesus is Yahweh.  Any further implications of Scripture are always tied to the original author’s intended meaning.

“Types” can also be discussed under the various nuances related to this topic.  A “type” in Scripture is a foreshadowing on a lower, physical, earthly level, a truth that is ultimately realized in a higher, spiritual, glorified level in the Gospel (taken from Typology of Scripture by Patrick Fairbairn).  A clear example of a type can be seen as we consider the children of Israel’s deliverance from Egypt.  This was a physical deliverance from a physical bondage that prefigured our ultimate redemption from the bondage of sin.  Further, we see this deliverance realized as a lamb was slain so that the angel of death would passover the children of Israel.  This lamb had to be perfect and without blemish physically.  All of this points to the fact that Jesus, the Lamb of God, was perfect and blameless spiritually and was judged by God and crucified so that we would not experience an eternal spiritual death of the wrath of God.  The fulfillment of the type is called the anti-type.  But notice something very important, the anti-type is tied directly to the initial meaning of the type.  The anti-type is not a “higher meaning”  that has nothing to do what the type meant.  It is an ultimate fulfillment of what the type symbolized.  In order for us to properly understand the anti-type we have to first properly understand the what the type meant in its original context as intended by God through Moses (or another author) to the people of Israel.

The last nuance that we will discuss relates to spiritual application.  Consider when Paul applies the passage “Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain,” (1 Cor. 9:9a, NIV) to Gospel ministers making their living from preaching the Gospel.  He says, “Is it about oxen that God is concerned?  Surely he says this for us….because whoever plows and threshes should be able to do so in the hope of sharing in the harvest,” (1 Cor 9:9b-10, NIV).  Does this mean that Paul made the corresponding OT passage (Deut 25:4) mean something that it never meant?  Think about it, did Paul change the meaning of Deut. 25:4?  In fact he did not.  Paul saw what we so often do in the OT and the Gospels.  God provided His people with “physical object lessons” (taken from Peter Vogt’s Interpreting the Pentateuch) that point to spiritual realities.  The argument could actually be made that this passage falls under typology.  But the point is this, Paul did not change Moses’ meaning.  In fact, a full discussion of this goes beyond the scope of this post, however the nature of the OT can lead us to believe that Moses also intended this spiritual application.  But notice again, this spiritual application made by Paul is directly tied to what the commandment was intended to mean to the people of Israel as given by Moses.

I have to admit that this discussion is far from being exhaustive.  We may have to more fully comprehend these ideas through question and answer.  Instead of asking leading questions for our discussion I will leave “the floor” open.  On Monday, I plan to tie this discussion into what was once a most popular way to interpret Scripture; namely the method of Allegorical Interpretation.

From → Hermeneutics

One Comment
  1. One further statement on the paragraph about Paul and Deut. 25:4. Even if Moses did not intend any spiritual application to the command, Paul’s application would still be directly tied to Moses meaning. Paul did not create an application that meant something differently on the spiritual level that wasn’t meant by the picture on the physical level. However, as I stated, I believe the argument can be made that Moses knew that the commandment had symbolic significance.

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